Mary Jo Peters: 35 Years of Service to the District of Oregon

Judge Frye’s Chambers

In April 1987, after she finished wrapping up Judge Solomon’s chambers, Mary Jo began working for Judge Helen Frye, the district’s first female judge. A year into her time with Judge Frye, Mary Jo had her daughter, Amanda. Always a pioneer, Judge Frye allowed Mary Jo to recover several months of unused leave, and she was able to take five months paid maternity leave. Mary Jo moved with Judge Frye into the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in 1997. The Hatfield Courthouse was a big change from the Gus J. Solomon Courthouse because it was so massive. In fact, Judge Frye’s staff had to put up signs for the first few months to help everyone find their way from chambers into the courtroom. Another big change Mary Jo remembers was a ban on smoking in elevators and having a separate elevator to transport in-custody defendants. She recalls riding the elevator to Judge Solomon’s chambers on the sixth floor of the old courthouse on SW Main with a defendant (or defendants) in chains and several people smoking.

Judge Frye’s first career was as an English teacher. Against her husband’s wishes and with three children at home, she went to night school and became a lawyer. As a former English teacher, Judge Frye was passionate about perfecting her opinions. She rarely ruled from the bench; she preferred to edit and re-edit before issuing fully thought-out opinions. At that time, chambers did all the editing by hand and typewriter. After each editing session, Mary Jo would retype the entire opinion. Opinions often required five or six re-types before Judge Frye was satisfied they were ready for filing, and some opinions required far more. Mary Jo especially remembers Judge Frye’s opinion in Penk, et al. v. Oregon State Board of Higher Education, which was a two-volume opinion and took months to perfect.

When Judge Frye eventually left the bench, Mary Jo worked briefly for the Clerk’s Office as Judge Jelderks’ courtroom deputy. She describes her first week with Judge Jelderks as a “trial by fire.” Mary Jo became Judge Frye’s courtroom deputy when Judge Frye took senior status, but she had never done a jury trial as her courtroom deputy. Judge Jelderks had a jury trial scheduled for her first week with him. It was a stressful week, but she says Judge Jelderks was very patient.

Judge Mosman’s Chambers

Mary Jo joined Judge Michael Mosman’s chambers in February 2006 when his long-time judicial assistant Diana retired. Although Judge Mosman’s Chambers Newsletter Fall 2007 edition described Mary Jo as his “interim JA,” she stayed for twelve years!

Mary Jo feels very lucky to have worked for three wonderful judges (or four if you count her four-month stint with Judge Jelderks). Maybe it’s because as the years marched along, she gained more experience and felt more comfortable in her job (or maybe she just got more nostalgic), but each new judge became her favorite. So, Judge Mosman is not just the last judge she worked for, but also holds the distinction of being her favorite.

Reflecting back on her many years working for the court, Mary Jo thinks the biggest difference would be the changes in technology. There is no comparison between how things used to be done and how they are done now. For example, when Mary Jo started, she used a manual typewriter with carbon paper and whiteout, and then graduated to a correcting typewriter. Now we have computers with word processing programs, and everyone is changing to Word and leaving Mary Jo’s beloved WordPerfect behind!

Mary Jo Peters with Judge Michael Mosman in 2018.

Mary Jo believes the biggest change she experienced is in the evolution of the judicial assistant position. When she worked for Judges Solomon and Frye, she was heavily involved in the opinion drafting process. She edited, cite checked, finalized, and sent opinions for publication. During her time with Judge Mosman, she had little to do with opinions—the judge and his law clerks drafted opinions and cite checked them. The judge’s courtroom deputy filed the opinions, and the National Reporter System submits them to Westlaw for online publication. Since Mary Jo was no longer involved in the opinion process, she was allowed to take on a new, very different role working with Judge Mosman’s criminal cases. She really enjoyed being in court for criminal hearings and preparing the criminal judgments. Thanks to the evolution of the judicial assistant position, for the last 12 years of her career, Mary Jo was able to do something very different she truly enjoyed.